Life Is a Series of Tradeoffs

Life Is a Series of Tradeoffs

Undoubtedly you’ve heard the maxim “you can’t have it all.” Life lessons prove the truth of it but our culture—and reality TV in particular—suggests that you can have it all. This attitude is often carried into the workplace and can be challenging for both coworkers and management. Managing expectations by pointing out necessary tradeoffs is one of the most productive things a manager can do.

Your “to do” list is never going to end. The real purpose of keeping one isn’t to complete all the tasks; it’s to identify what tradeoffs you’ll have to make each day. Helping your high achiever direct reports understand that will save both of you a lot of angst.

Not even the most productive perfectionist can give 110% to absolutely every project that comes their way. They’ll burn out, their work quality and production will suffer, and their staff/coworkers probably will find them challenging to deal with. Why? Not because they’re perfectionists but because they didn’t prioritize and determine the tradeoffs that were necessary for them to achieve “perfection” on the projects that really matter.

And we’ve all seen the mental gyrations parents go through while trying to balance work and home. Shonda Rhimes, best known as the writer and producer of several hit TV shows, said, “If I am killing it on a Scandal script for work, I am probably missing bath and story time at home. If I am at home sewing my kids’ Halloween costumes, I’m probably blowing off a rewrite I was supposed to turn in. If I am accepting a prestigious award, I am missing my baby’s first swim lesson….That is the Faustian bargain one makes with the devil that comes with being a powerful working woman who is also a powerful mother.”

Notice that the tradeoffs she mentions doesn’t mean she’s not able to achieve her goal of being a “powerful working woman…powerful mother.” She understands that if someone is successful in one area of their lives, that almost certainly means that they are “failing” in another. That is normal and should be expected.

When people are struggling to make tradeoffs, remind them of their ultimate goals, what success looks like for them, and the connection between the two. To quote Ms. Rhimes, “…because I get to spend my days making things up, that woman is a better person—and a better mother. Because that woman is happy. That woman is fulfilled. That woman is whole. I wouldn’t want them [her children] to know the me who didn’t get to do this all day long. I wouldn’t want them to know the me who wasn’t doing. My dreams did not come true. But I worked really hard. And I ended up building an empire out of my imagination.”

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